The D.C. Zoning Commission voted Monday night to temporarily withhold approval of a proposed “technical correction” for a zoning regulation that leaders of a planned home for LGBT seniors say could have prevented the home from opening in a residential area of Southeast Washington.
Officials with Mary’s House for Older Adults said they were advised by their attorneys that the so-called correction could be interpreted to require their planned residential facility to operate as a full-service nursing home, something they don’t have the funds to provide.
At the request of Zoning Commissioner Robert Miller, the five-member commission voted to put on hold the proposed technical change until the city’s Office of Planning, which initiates all zoning changes, develops clarifying language ensuring that facilities like Mary’s House would not have to operate as a nursing home.
“This is grand,” said Dr. Imani Woody, founder and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc., a nonprofit organization that plans to build the LGBT-friendly facility on the site of the Southeast D.C. home where Woody grew up.
“This simply was a grassroots effort of support from the community – nationally and locally,” Woody told the Washington Blade after the Zoning Commission vote. “We need this kind of support,” she said. “The Zoning Commission recognized it.”
Miller and other commission members said they received multiple letters and phone calls from members of the community supportive of Mary’s House urging them to take steps to ensure that the proposed zoning change would not prevent the house from opening.
Edward Giefer, the Associate Director and spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Planning, told the Blade in an email that the proposed change was adopted as part of a comprehensive revision to zoning regulations. He said the change pertaining to residential facilities for seniors was aimed at providing a means for senior housing in low-density zones where multi-family housing is otherwise not permitted.
According to Giefer, the proposed technical correction would not have changed the longstanding existing zoning regulation that already requires senior facilities to operate as a nursing home but has allowed senior residential facilities to apply for and receive a special exemption to the requirement.
He said the Office of Planning will send “clarification language” to the commission in time for its first meeting in January to “make it clearer that an applicant would not have to provide full medical or nursing care.”
In 2014, shortly after its founding, Woody and other Mary’s House organizers said at a gathering at the planned site at 401 Anacostia Road, S.E., that its plans called for expanding an existing house on the site into an eight-suite complex, with each suite having its own bedroom and bathroom.
Last week, Mary’s House Vice President Tim Helms told the Blade the plans have since changed. They now call for replacing the existing house with a new structure that will include 15 individual living units and a common kitchen. He said a team of architects had developed blueprints for the new structure and construction could begin soon after the city approves a building permit.
Woody said the action by the Zoning Commission on Monday appears to clear the way for the building permit.
“We’re going to send the architectural plans to our lawyer and we’re going to try to get that special exemption,” she said.
“Mary’s House for Older Adults is committed to helping our city by developing special needs housing that comprehensively addresses affordability and access, and eliminates the constant worry of discrimination or even violence based upon the LGBTQ status of the individual,” Woody said in an Oct. 25 letter to the Zoning Commission.
“Mary’s House for Older Adults would do this by developing LGBTQ friendly single room occupancy housing that would provide a communal, independent living experience for adults 60 years of age and older,” she said, making it the first such residence of its kind in D.C.